'Tiger' scores $686,657 on 16 screens over weekend

With a lustrous per-screen gross of almost $43,000, Ang Lee’s martial-arts fantasy “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” from Sony Classics was all the buzz among B.O. watchers Sunday.

“We’ve always said that this is the movie event of the year,” Sony Classics’ Tom Bernard enthused. “I think this proves us correct.”

Playing on 16 screens in New York and three Canadian cities, pic grossed an estimated $686,657 over three days. “Crouching Tiger” hits L.A. next weekend, then gets a broader rollout on Dec. 22 and an even bigger expansion Jan. 12.

Among other specialty films, Fox Searchlight’s “Quills” came off of its National Board of Review best-pic nod to post a three-day gross of $163,655 for an exceptional per-screen average of $18,184 and a cume of $894,145. Universal Focus’ “Billy Elliot,” whose award hopes include even a long-shot hope for best-pic notice, danced its way to another $887,000 in B.O. with a $1,825 per-screen average and brawny $14.6 million cume.

Paramount Classics’ “You Can Count on Me” counted $298,000 in new gross for a tidy $5,623 per-screen average and a $2.1 million cume. Pic’s Laura Linney is being touted for best-actress consideration, while Kenneth Lonergan is seen as a contender for writer-director attention. Artisan’s “Requiem for a Dream,” which has generated award buzz for thesp Ellen Burstyn, conjured $160,000 with a $2,050 per-screen average and $2.4 million cume.

And Sony’s Guy Ritchie-helmed, Brad Pitt-toplined “Snatch,” set for a release on 1,200 screens on Jan. 19, debuted on a single L.A. screen to qualify for awards consideration, grabbing an impressive $27,000.

Miramax saw an encouraging 80% sellout for its soon-to-bow “Chocolat” in sneak previews, while its re-release of Beatles classic “A Hard Day’s Night” added $95,000 over three days for a fab $7,900 per-screen average and $178,000 cume.

” ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is definitely a movie that we feel can play for several months,” Miramax marketing veep David Kaminow said.

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